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Dreaming of a red Christmas

The UK's only real surviving feast day calls for something a little special so here are some (largely High Street) red wines that will grace the occasion for you.

Stage Three of our look at seasonal wines puts the focus on red wines with an eye to Christmas lunch – but most of these selections will work for other festive events too.

Next week will see the turn of dessert wines – along with another seasonal special.

 As ever, where pictures are available, click on the image for an enlarged version that should help you locate the wine on a crowded shelf.

Starting with something light

Turkey can be a forgiving dish where the selection of wine can often have more to do with the trimmings than with the meat itself.

Unless those accompaniments are especially hearty, rosé can prove successful as can a light red such as – a favourite style for me – Loire cabernet franc.

Finding a good one can be tricky but, guided the guys on the spot, I have at last found a version that ticks all the right boxes.

With those classic violet aromas 2016 Domaine de Bonneliere Saumur Champagny (£11.95 at www.fromvineyardsdirect.co.uk and 12.5% abv) also exhibits soft loganberry and cherry fruit with bold acidity and suggestions of roast pepper, coffee and herbs built into its savoury depth.

For some pinot noir and Christmas are inseparable

If New World pinot is the style for you then I have a delightful Central Otago version that, helpfully, is on offer with a substantial discount just at the moment.

The aromas are more rose petal than violet in 2016 Nanny Goat Vineyard Pinot Noir (£14.99 – instead of £19.99 until Christmas – at Waitrose and 13.5%) which also has raspberry and red currant fruit with touches of aniseed and clove all neatly counterbalanced by a vibrant acidic prickle.

Or perhaps a version from Burgundy

Northern hemisphere pinot invariably leads to Burgundy but price can be an issue here unless you are prepared to move away from vineyards on the region’s celebrity status hills.

I have done that to locate the red cherry and raspberry based 2015 Chorey Les Beaunes Veilles Vignes (£16.99 at Aldi) which also brings us attractive floral touches along with that (classic pinot) beetroot style earthiness.

But there are claret traditionalists too.

For Claret aficionados, what could be a better great value option than a 70:30 merlot and cabernet sauvignon blend from the Third Growth Chateau Boyd Cantenac.


I refer to 2013 Finest* Margaux (£20 at Tesco and 13.5%) with its nicely balanced bramble and black cherry fruit with gentle tannin and a nutmeg influenced savoury edge.


Never ignore Bordeaux’s rising stars

As with Burgundy, one needs to move off the beaten path to find up and coming producers offering impressive quality: price ratios – I have in mind areas like Blaye and, in this case, Castillon.

There is that typical claret texture to 2012 Chateau La Clariére Laithwaite (£24 at Laithwaite and 13%) which is infused with graphite centred savouriness.

This gives depth to the wine’s long, black cherry and damson fruit, soft tannin, good acidity and supporting suggestions of menthol, chocolate and nutmeg.

Here is a seriously unexpected option

Speaking of cabernet and merlot, do try a lovely Tuscan blend of those star grapes – albeit, and understandably, with a 20% sangiovese component too.

Enjoy the soft, full, rose centred raspberry and bramble fruit of 2015 Orbitali Bolgheri (£10.48 at Asda and 14%) given verve by firm acidity and neatly embellished with mocha influenced hints of dried fruit.

But getting back to tradition

Any lamb oriented Christmas lunch would be enhanced by a nicely aged rioja but one with enough tannin to neutralise the slight fattiness of the meat.

Although many rioja reds are blends, 2010 Baron de Ley Rioja Gran Reserva (£12 at Morrisons and 13.5%) is 100% tempranillo and has brilliantly bright, minty cherry and damson fruit to prove it and acidic freshness.

Now for a couple of wild cards

If there is sturdy fare on the Christmas lunch table, we usually need full and robust wine to accompany it – and that often takes us to Southern France and, in this case, to the original home of malbec.

A good candidate then is 2015 Taste the Difference Chateau les Bouysses Cahors Malbec (£12 at Sainsbury’s and 13.5%) with firm acidity and warm coffee and clove enhanced cherry and loganberry fruit but gentle tannin.

Finishing where we started

My enthusiasm for cabernet franc is not restricted to those lighter versions from the Loire Valley because the grape successfully adds structure to Bordeaux reds and is rugged enough for standalone versions further south.

For instance, Languedoc gives us 2015 Gayda Figure Libre Cabernet Franc (£16.99 at www.oxfordwine.co.uk  – who may shortly move to the equally acclaimed 2016 vintage -and 14%) – a warm, dark plum, cassis and red cherry centred red with mint, chilli and cocoa touches and contrasting sweet edges.

I hope that has given you ideas for Yuletime reds as we move onto pudding wine next week.


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17 Responses

  1. Pretty impressive selection there Brian, the Outlook Pinot might be worth a go as I find it hard to pick a decent Pinot for Christmas (as you say without spending silly money), I have gone with the Cono Sur 20 barrels in the past (always reliable). I enjoy Vinsobres, Cellier des Dauphins do a good one for around a tenner in most supermarkets. Rioja always features around our table no matter what we are eating and I have quite a few bottles of Baron de Ley on standby, rarely have a bad bottle from these guys. Looking forward to the whites next week !

  2. Hi Brian, thank you for your comments on the Outlook Bay Pinot. Any thoughts on Lidl’s Baden Spätburgunder? I bought a couple of bottles based on Richard Bampfield’s review and 91 points.

  3. Thanks for your comments Dave and for your endorsement of the Baron de Ley – as you say, a very reliable producer. Outlook pinot is a sound, light option that embodies much of what New Zealand pinot does well but the 20 Barrels is a sturdier choice and would probably marginally outpoint it for Christmas lunch – especially if you have all the “trimmings”

  4. Great to hear from you Bill but I am afraid I have not tried that particualr guy. However, if Richard scores it at that level, there is very little risk that it will disappoint. Do let us know how you get on … Best … Brian

  5. Great stuff as ever Brian. Spotted this notification late yesterday …

    Whilst all the big supermarket outlets are still running with 25% off schemes now Morrisons too have a full-on 25% off buy 6 from now until 12th December.

    They make a complication that none of the other main supermarkets do in that you can only have the deal in multiples of 6!!

    Buy any mixed 8 or 9, then anything over 6 won’t include in the deal until we get to 12 … then 18, etc!! Selections can be mixed but nothing priced under £5.50 a bottle can feature.

    Your Monday December 4th MWW posting included this Occitaine red that is a current favourite of mine. Buy 6 and it comes down to £6. Of its kind and provenance it has wonderful French rustic charm stamped all over it.

    Calvet Igp Cite De Carcassonne – Morrisons Online Groceries & Offers

    Just to mention again the Tesco Eglise Saint-Jaques Bergerac.

    I had bought some many weeks ago attracted at first by the word ”Bergerac” on the label. Hens’ teeth stuff in this country for red bottles! Often a very reliable substitute at good money for Bordeaux blends.

    Prompted then by the endorsement here I went off to replenish stocks to compliment the very excellent Pierre Jaurant Bordeaux from Aldi. I can’t not have lots of claret on the shelf.

    Disappointment at the first store I decided to drop in. They no longer had it. But I have the time on my hands when I understand many don’t.

    Luckily a trip out to the biggest Tesco in the area found bottles a plenty. Currently on a double dip, £7 down to £6 it can be £4.50 until December 17th . A star buy indeed for an authentic, go-to-any-time house wine, again in my ”cellar”.
    Eglise Saint Jacques Bergerac 75Cl – Tesco Groceries

    Don’t know if you will cover this white later but the stand out bottle for me from the Asda Wine Club case last month is this Extra Special Gavi di Gavi, that when bought on Asda’s current reduction will be £7.12. It’s a stunner for me and for those wanting a white ”for the turkey” this is the perfect top-class, guaranteed to please, value bottle to substitute for any more expensive Chardonnay let’s say.

    ASDA Extra Special Gavi di Gavi 75cl – ASDA Groceries

  6. As usual, an interesting selection of wines. There is so much quality wine around, great buys still to be had, so ever useful to get pointers from Brian – and the regular MidWeeker contributors.

    Within this selection there are several that I have tasted and enjoyed: The Beaujolais Nouveau; Jadot Burgundy; Misfits Cinsault; and the Liberator Tannat.

    It might be of interest that I drank the featured 2023 Nouveau alongside the same producer’s 2022 Nouveau. This was still drinking very well, so if anyone discovers a bottle of the 2023 lurking in their wine rack, it is likely to be a very pleasant 2024 summer tipple.

    I approached the Tannat wine with some trepidation. But, no, it didn’t taste like immature vintage port, but was an interesting and surprisingly “friendly” wine.

    I do find it fascinating, and educational, to compare Brian’s and other’s descriptions with my rather shorter and basic notes. Some time back I remember regularly describing a particular taste as “medical”, but eventually, by correlating my notes with wine professionals, worked out that “menthol” is a more appropriate description that is widely used. There are other examples, and it is useful and satisfying to align one’s wine vocabulary with the trade. In that respect Brian’s wine descriptions are right up there with the best.

    Having quite recently come to appreciate Cinsault single variety wines, I shall buy another bottle of the The Misfits, taste it alongside Brian’s detailed description, and refine my wine dictionary. Keep educating us, Brian!

  7. Why not a classic Big Red Aussie for Xmas?
    Asda are offering Wirra Wirra Church Block Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot- Shiraz at £10.50 ,down from £13.50- but is then included in the 25% off mix six deal.Sometimes it is good to visit old friends,particularly at great prices.

  8. Thanks for the tips, Eddie – really helpful in dragging maximum value from a rising market. Not only that but the suggested Gavi could be an addition to the other Christmas whites being featured on Monday

  9. Glad you found your Eglise Saint Jacques Bergerac Eddie. I located a few bottles here but only in a Tesco Express where, disappointingly, it was priced on the shelf at £7.75 and no mention of a Clubcard discount. I suppose I should have taken a bottle to the self-service till and checked what price came up but, as a matter of principle, I was not going to pay over the odds! It still seems I have until 17 Dec to get it on a 25% off 6 offer (pretty likely to be extended?) and until New Year’s Eve to get the Clubcard discount if I drive to one of the 2 Tesco superstores within 15 miles

    1. Likesay Keith I have the time to apply myself to chasing around after wines that I want … at the price I can have them. I do really appreciate that others will not have the free time that I do and maybe people will have to pass if they can’t locate stock easily.

      But as with others here this is both my hobby and my passion. The majority of folk that MWW aims at I think Brian might say is the ”general public” who won’t have the same investment as a smaller group of real enthusiastic explorers.

      Herein lies a small problem of a subjective nature. What was all that fuss about??? LOL … We suggest folks try something and it turns out to be not what they prefer, after giving a lot of effort maybe for very little return. I suppose that is why I focus strongly on identifying the deals, purchasing and often repurchasing and a small investment to stock up when it’s there. Thankfully the stuff is usually there at the Big 5, plus the likes of the Co op, Lidl, Aldi, M&S, Majestic or even Ocado.

      My guilty pleasure is a long way from there when I use The Wine Society for trying and experimenting with limited purchasing of more expensive bottles that thankfully now can come to me without delivery charge, often in 24 hours, and not even having to leave the house chasing about looking for it. A litre of fuel for a supermarket shopping trip against £40 up front to be a member of the specialist TWS. It’s a trade off isn’t it, not always suitable for others.

      Just to mention how I much enjoy being amongst this group of people chatting about wine that’s facilitated by Brian and the time he gives to this excellent and frequent posting that is MWW. I’m sure we all massively appreciate what he gives to this .
      Sante …..

  10. Thank you for the much appreciated praise, Richard. While the best descriptions of something unknown is by analogy with something familiar, it can be a difficult line to tread between being as complete as you can without the purple prose that shot Jilly Goolden to fame.
    You are spot on about that tannat, incidentally. It is so nice to have pre-conceptions shattered in such a nice way.

  11. Why not indeed. There are some excellent Aussie versions about at present – many at great value prices.

  12. Another great Cinsault is the Wine Society’s Bin#15 2022 Cinsault Vin de France Ollieux Romanis from the Languedoc. On sale at £11.50 down from £12.95 but fine to drink until 2025.Pale coloured, fragrant with red fruits and so smooth and silky..Very little sulphur involved so fruit to the fore.A natural wine,at its best slightly chilled.A modest,but welcome, 13% alcohol level.
    I suspect many white wine drinkers could warm to this red wine.

  13. Thanks Paul, just checked my CellarTracker to see if I had a bottle, but I don’t. Sounds good, will add one to my next order. One if the reviews suggested it would be liked by “Pinot Paupers”, I guess that covers me.

    I do have a bottle of Van Loggerenberg ‘Geronimo’ Cinsault, Stellenbosch 2021. My note shows I tasted it at a SA WS tasting in Lewes – must have liked it because I paid £22 (less 10%).

    1. Hello Richard,
      Cinsault is an interesting grape.For many years the vines were dug up in SW France, unfashionable,difficult to grow and with a tendency to produce very high yields of grapes that tasted of zilch.
      However carefully grown it can produce very good wines
      Guess what- it is now being replanted in the Languedoc for two main reasons-Climate change–Cinsault is very resistant to heat and drought and secondly changes in customer preferences ,dramatically away from full bodied,high alcohol reds.
      Cinsault grapes are relatively modest in sugar levels and very rarely go above 13% alcohol.
      So here is a bold prediction -in the future Languedoc wines will contain a lot more Cinsault.

  14. I think you are right about Languedoc cinsault. GSC is becoming almost as mainstream for the region as its GSM blends. It is the single varietals that offer the most scope though with an attractive lightness that, presumably, explains the “pinot pauper” observation Richard mentions.

  15. Thank you, Eddie. As you say, the site has two sets of followers (and both are warmly welcomed). One is the average wine drinker who just wants a “fuss-free”, reliable bottle at a good value price. Top Tips in particular are aimed at them and it is gratifying to hear of so many people using the site to take their pleasure from wine up a notch. Thursday posts also try to provide something for the enthusiast (folk who are regarded by friends as “knowing a bit about wine” but who fall well short of being nerdy). It is good to see a community developing among both sets of subscribers although – as you suggest – it is quite time consuming producing the content and, because of the increasing cost of hosting and dependable security control, the site does run at a loss.

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